Sunday, April 25, 2010

More on Christian Fiction

Yesterday I wrote a post called Theology Matters?!? It was supposed to be on Christian fiction. It wasn't until I thought about it--really thought about it--that I realized I was focusing more on general (secular) fiction, in how Christianity is presented in general when it comes to fiction.

What makes a book "christian fiction"? The fact that the author is a Christian? The fact that it's published by a Christian publisher? The fact that it is sold in Christian bookstores? The fact that it has family-friendly, faith-friendly content? The fact that the primary audience is intended to be Christian?

I suppose you could define it as fiction written by Christians for Christians. But is that all there is to it? Is Christian fiction written for unbelievers? Is it written for the seeker community? Is it written to help readers figure things out? Is it meant to reflect the Christian life, the Christian experience? Is it meant to reflect humanity? Or is it meant to reflect God? Or is a bit of both? Is it supposed to be about asking the hard questions or providing the right answers? Is the purpose to provide an enjoyable, entertaining story? Or is it supposed to have more substance, is it supposed to engage the reader and help them reflect on their own lives, on their own beliefs?

Is it fair to even use the label Christian fiction? In a way it makes sense. But it at times seems a little too broad. Because when it comes down to it, it is not a proper genre on its own. It consists of many, many genres. Contemporary chick lit. Contemporary mysteries and thrillers. Fantasy. Science Fiction. Suspense. Supernatural. Contemporary Romances. Historical fiction. Historical romances. So yes, some Christian Fiction books are "bonnet" books. Historical fiction set in traditional, old-fashioned, conservative communities. Nothing too terribly edgy. But there is more to "christian fiction" than that.

Reading is subjective. That's a given. Some readers have one or two genres that they're super-comfortable in and that's what they want to read. Some readers read a bit more broadly. But no matter how broad or how narrow your reading tastes are there are always going to be genres, authors, books that are not going to fit you right. That doesn't mean I advocate never ever trying new authors or new genres. But I think it's important to realize that it's more about you than the book, the author, the genre.

I am not a big fan of mysteries, detective stories, thrillers, and suspense novels. So the mere fact that there are christian books out there in these genres to choose from, well, it doesn't change my tastes. I'm still not drawn to them. Not because they're "christian" but just because they're mysteries. I read the occasional premise--especially for blog tour offers--and I just can't seem to work up any enthusiasm.

I think Christian fiction is a bit unique in the challenge it faces. Because not only does it have to battle the stereotypes of the label "Christian fiction", it has to battle the stereotypes for each of its genres. Because people can be a little harsh when it comes to judging both.

I love historical fiction. I love historical romance. So for me, Christian fiction has a great variety of authors to choose from. It is easy for me to find Christian authors to love. I'm just getting started it seems. There are so many authors out there whose books I still want to read. And I have found so many great authors already. But I know there are more to discover in the years ahead. And I'm excited about reading in this genre--reviewing in this genre!

I don't see the genre as flawless. I don't think it is perfect with no room for improvement. I have read some books with incredibly human, incredibly complex characters whose stories I have just fallen in love with. But I've read a handful of books with one-dimensional characters that just fall flat. I've read some books with incredible detail and rich settings. And books where the writing is just incredible, just beautiful. And others not so much. But I think that's just part of the reading experience in ANY genre.

Is it fair to judge a genre by one or two books or by one or two authors? Well, I think it happens. I honestly can't say I blame the person for giving up. If I was trying a new genre--say science fiction--and I read a handful of books and hated each of them, I don't know that I'd keep seeking other books from that genre. I might assume that there weren't any "good" books out there. And in a way that makes perfect sense. Why waste your time on something you think you won't enjoy in the end? There isn't enough time to get to all the books you want to read--especially if your TBR pile is anything like mine--so it only makes sense to have priorities. But still, I would hope that there would be people willing to give new authors, new genres a chance.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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